On Wednesday, a number of renowned documentarians, including Alex Gibney, Laura Poitras and Matt Heineman, came together to give their support to people harassed and arrested for recording police.
In a statement posted at Documentary.org, the documentarians requested Department of Justice authorities look into the “pervasive harassment of citizens who use cameras and social media to document and distribute footage of law enforcement.”
More than 40 filmmaker signed the statement.
Recently, videos of a number of police brutality incidents have surfaced online. The relationship between police and people of color has been quite troubled in the last few years in many areas of the country, and the videos recorded by “citizen journalists” are irrefutable proof of abuse of power.
Filmmaker David Sutcliffe wrote in an open letter to the documentary community that it is “vital we defend the rights of these individuals to use video as a means of criticizing unjust police activity.”
But, the sad part is that some of these people who recorded videos of police brutality and other such incidents were arrested themselves, and in some cases faced criminal charges.
It happened with all those who filmed the deaths of Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling and Eric Garner.
Chris LeDay, who uploaded footage from the Alton Sterling shooting, was arrested when he reached work at the Dobbins Air Force Base. He was then told he had a warrant for assault on battery and subsequently was kept at the Dekalb County Jail for 26 hours. It was only later when he learned that the only warrant against him was for outstanding traffic tickets, and was released upon paying a $1,100 fine.
“If it wasn’t for these people taking these risks, we would likely not have any of the primary source material, the evidence that shows us just how challenged the relationship between police and communities of color have been,” Simon Kilmurry, executive director of the International Documentary Association, said.
According to BuzzFeed News, LeDay got his job back after an entire month of trying to clear out misunderstandings. In the process he lost around $4,000 worth of wages.
In another case, Kevin Moore, who filmed the arrest of Freddie Gray in April 2015 by the Baltimore Police, was arrested two weeks after the incident took place. However, charges were later dropped.
It is absolutely unfair that people simply filming incidents of police brutality are being detained for no reason at all. When such cases are swept under the rug, and minority communities are made to face injustice at the hands of police personnel, preventing citizens from filming the incidents just means authorities are trying to cover it up and perpetuate the cycle of abuse.